Students at the University of South Alabama and Spring Hill College will soon be able to register for classes offered on each other’s campuses through an interinstitutional registration program both schools plan to implement starting in the spring 2017.

Modeling their efforts after their respective alma maters of Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Spring Hill President Dr. Christopher Puto and USA President Dr. Tony Waldrop last week said the cross-campus initiative would be a mutually beneficial partnership.

“Some people might ask, ‘Why would you enter into an agreement like this with someone that can be a competitor?’ Well, I think that’s very backward thinking,” Waldrop said. “The more we can do together, the more we can both benefit from those activities.”

University of South Alabama President Dr. Tony Waldrop, left, and Spring Hill College President Dr. Christopher Puto announced a new program last week that's expected to benefit students at both institutions. (Courtesy USA)

University of South Alabama President Dr. Tony Waldrop, left, and Spring Hill College President Dr. Christopher Puto announced a new program last week that’s expected to benefit students at both institutions. (Courtesy USA)

With fewer than four miles of Old Shell Road separating the campuses, Waldrop said the partnership with Spring Hill will help facilitate “student access and success.” It adds to the existing partnerships USA has with local community colleges and, according to Waldrop, also fits into Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s goal of bringing Mobile’s universities and colleges together in various partnerships.

As for the details, an interinstitutional registration program is fairly simple. Full-time undergraduate students at either college will be able to sign up for traditional classroom and online courses offered at the other and can do so using the same registration process they normally go through each semester.

Speaking with Lagniappe, Puto said that while interinstitutional registration is a new concept for both schools, in many ways it acts to simplify a process some students are already taking advantage.

“A student now who wants to take a course at [USA] can register here as a part-time student, even if they’re full-time at Spring Hill. Then they could apply to transfer those credits, but that is so full of red tape,” Puto said. “With this new partnership, it’s not a transfer — it’s as if you register at your own school. It shows up as a normal credit on your transcript, it counts toward your GPA and you pay your home school’s tuition.”

The tuition rate at Spring Hill, a private college, is nearly double what students at USA pay annually. According to their respective websites, a year of tuition, books, room and board is estimated to cost roughly $16,000 at USA, while a year at Spring Hill can ring up at nearly $48,000.

However, with a difference in the price of tuition comes a difference in the size of each school’s student population. One clear benefit the new program will have for students is the ability to take classes that might be full or only offered once a year on their home campuses.

For Spring Hill, which has around 1,200 full-time students compared to USA’s 16,000, Puto said the option to take a course offered at the other school would make it easier for students to complete their degrees “at the right time and in the right sequence.”

Student Government Association president Joseph Crapanzano said his fellow students at Spring Hill are “very excited” about that option, adding that having the option to use interinstitutional registration would be mutually beneficial for students on both campuses.

“You have different professors at each school specializing in different things, so a student might see that there’s a 400-level philosophy class being offered at Spring Hill but not at South,” Crapanzano said. “That would be really good for a philosophy major at South to come over and take, and vice versa, for a student that might want to take a higher-level course a professor at South offers.”

Josh Crownover, the SGA president at USA, said the chemistry offerings at Spring Hill will benefit students at USA who need to take certain general studies and upper-level classes that may not be available in a given semester.

However, in addition to the academic benefit, Crownover and Crapanzano said sharing a classroom is likely to create opportunities for students at both schools to interact and engage — adding that spending more time on each other’s campus can “automatically build a connection that students may not have had before.”

“Just from the time that I’ve been here, the comradery between the schools has grown tremendously, though there’s still plenty more that we can do,” Crownover said. “I think a lot of people see the differences between the campuses as a barrier, but I think we’ll keep seeing more opportunities pop up where we can collaborate even outside of the classroom.”

While the cross-campus registration will cover mostly undergraduate and general studies courses, some higher-level classes will be offered as well. Waldrop did say, however, that courses in “some colleges” at USA may not be able to participate because of limited space, “strict curriculum” or both.

The exact course offerings aren’t set just yet, but Puto said students who are interested in taking classes away from their home campus will be able to speak with their academic advisors about those options when the program officially launches at the start of the spring semester.

“It all will work through the advisors, so it’s not as if a student can just say, ‘Hey, I feel like taking this course because I’m bored,’” Puto said. “Are we going to plug up Old Shell Road with people driving back and forth? I doubt it … because your home college is your home college. But this program provides a wonderful opportunity to embellish and advance the educational experience for students on both campuses.”